Bulls

Bulls lock down late, extend conference lead

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Bulls lock down late, extend conference lead

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted 9:48 p.m. Updated 11:44 p.m.
By Aggrey Sam
CSNChicago.com

Another night, another blue-collar victory for the Bulls (52-19), who outlasted a game Grizzlies (40-32) squad, 99-96, Friday evening at the United Center.

On a night when offense didnt come easy, All-Star point guard Derrick Rose came up big in the clutch, converting a traditional three-point play late in the game as part of the effort to stave off Memphis.

Korver on Rose: He's special

A win is the most important thing. My teammates, they had my back tonight. Shots that I would normally hit werent going for me tonight, said Rose, who struggled through a 6-for-22 game shooting from the floor, afterwards. Theres always going to be a night like that, but were playing against tough teams.

Towards the end, I just knew that I just had to make shots or make plays," he continued. "That was the biggest thing. Im trying to get better at the end, just being a closer. Im still trying to get there.

Deng unhappy with Bulls' effort

Clearly not in awe of the Bulls new status as darlings of the national media, the Grizzlies blitzed their hosts in the early going, jumping out to an 11-4 lead. Chicago native Tony Allen (13 points) led the visitors charge, as the Grizzlies swingman who played for Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau when both were in Boston scored eight quick points on 4-for-4 shooting in the opening period.

While Luol Deng (23 points, six rebounds) was the only player who could effectively manufacture offense initially, a lack of touches during the teams drought affected him as well. Luckily for Chicago , Taj Gibson's (six points, seven rebounds) immediate impact off the bench sparked the home teams offense.

Meanwhile, Memphis got scoring from a variety of sources such as point guard Mike Conley (12 points, six assists) and another swingman, Sam Young their hot shooting cooled off toward the conclusion of the first quarter, which ended with the Bulls trailing slightly, 22-21.

They were the aggressor in the first quarter, Carlos Boozer observed. Once we got in the fight of the game, I thought we fought back great.

Chicagos second unit (affectionately known as The Bench Mob), usually relied upon to outplay the opposing reserves and thus either increase the starters lead, give the Bulls an advantage or get the team back in the game didnt make much initial progress in their nightly second-quarter pursuit, although rookie center Omer Asik (six points, five rebounds) again impacted the game with his always-high activity level, as did swingman Ronnie Brewer (seven points, four rebounds).

Tellingly, however, a C.J. Watson (five points, three assists) tumble beyond the court and into the courtside seats was perhaps the most buzzed-about moment of the reserves stint, prior to Thibodeau filtering in most of his regulars.

An antsy United Center crowd, unaccustomed to their now-first-place team playing in a lackluster fashion, displayed its dissatisfaction with both the officiating and the play on the court, as the excitable Allen continued to torment his hometown team and the Grizzlies gained confidence to go with their lead.

Late in the half, however, a double technical on power forwards Boozer (12 points, nine rebounds) and Zach Randolph (16 points, five rebounds, four assists) seemed to ignite the Bulls, resulting in a Deng-propelled comeback and a 49-46 halftime lead for Chicago, following a tough Rose (24 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) fall-away jumper with seconds remaining.

Weve got players that really like Derrick and Booz get a lot of attention, said Deng. Everyone else, weve got to be smart about what theyre trying to do early in the game and use that to our advantage.

Derrick does a good job of getting so much attention, its really just a matter of locking in and making your shot, he continued. I had open shots and Ive been shooting the ball well the last few games.

After the break, the Grizzlies made a concerted effort to get the ball inside to underrated center Marc Gasol (14 points, 11 rebounds, four assists), who responded by scoring proficiently in the low post. Rose began to assert himself offensively, but Memphis countered by utilizing Randolph, a highly-skilled post-up player, keeping the game a tight-knit affair.

Chicago, buoyed by Roses strong all-around play it wasnt one of his better shooting nights, however built a slight cushion, but the visitors refused to wilt, hanging tough despite Allen earning himself a technical foul.

Through three quarters, the Bulls clung to a 74-73 advantage. Led by reserve forwards Darrell Arthur (10 points) and Leon Powe (11 points) another of Thibodeaus former Celtics protgs Memphis kept battling, eventually overtaking the Bulls.

Now, it was time for Chicago to fight back and that they did, with Boozer as a catalyst, as the power forward controlled the boards and muscled in tough baskets on the interior, leading to the Bulls having the momentum in this see-saw battle heading down the stretch.

Defense was the Bulls saving grace late in the physical contest, as they came up with key defensive stops to prevent the Grizzlies from taking a lead in the final minutes. On the other hand, crucial turnovers plagued the home team, ensuring that they didnt have the opportunity to capitalize on their good work on the other end of the floor.

Thats how the playoffs are going to be. More than likely, thats how the playoffs are going to be called, said Boozer of the games atmosphere. Great test for our team.

Added Rose: Every game. Falling, tripping, getting fouled hard. Some calls and some no-calls. Weve just got to fight through it.

With under a minute left and holding a 95-93 lead, the Bulls forced a Memphis miss and after Allen, the boisterous Chicagoan, couldnt control the offensive rebound, the Bulls had possession with 30.2 seconds left. Out of a timeout, Rose took Allen off the dribble and finished at the basket with his left hand, drawing a foul in the process, giving the Bulls a 98-93 lead with 10.8 seconds remaining.

He jumped on my right hand, thinking I was going to drive right and I just saw a lane. Right when I saw it, I just tried to go in there hard and get contact. I got it and just tried to focus on making the layup, and it went in, Rose recounted. Id been missing bunnies the whole game. Id been missing layups, shots I normally hit. It feels good when a shot finally goes in.

Rose completed the three-point play, but after a timeout, Grizzlies sixth man O.J. Mayo rebounded a Memphis miss to knock down a three-pointer with 4.3 seconds to go, cutting the deficit to 98-96. Following a timeout, Rose was fouled on the ensuing possession, but split a pair of free throws, leaving the door open for the Grizzlies in a one-possession game.

Alas, Conleys final long-range attempt was short, giving Chicago the victory. Coupled with a Celtics loss, the Bulls increased their stranglehold on first place in the East to a two-game lead.

We get poised at the end of the game, said Boozer. Weve almost seen every scenario this season, so when the game got down to the wire, we were comfortable because we had already been there.

Sometimes it comes down to the last two or three minutes who wants it more? and we wanted it more.

Aggrey Sam is CSNChicago.com's Bulls Insider. Follow him @CSNBullsInsider on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bulls information and his take on the team, the NBA and much more.

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls fail to close another close game in loss to Raptors

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Bulls fail to close another close game in loss to Raptors

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and John Sabine react to the Bulls 93-92 loss to Toronto.

0:45 - Reaction to losing another close game

2:00 - Kendall Gill stops by to give Matt Peck a hard time about Derrick Rose

3:30 - On Wendell Carter Jr and wanting more

4:45 - Viewer comment on Bulls shooting 46 three-point attempts

7:20 - Concern over Lauri Markkanen

8:10 - Viewer comment still believing in Lauri

9:40 - Viewer comment on Wendell Carter and Daniel Gafford

12:10 - Viewer comment on running more pick n roll w Zach and Lauri

15:35 - Viewer question on Otto Porter and Hutchison

16:30 - Viewer trade idea: Kevin Love for Markkanen

17:15 - Any comfort in coming close to beating two of the top teams in the East?

20:30 - Viewer comment on losing games

23:00 - Viewer comment on Coby should start

24:05 - Viewer comment pandering to John Sabine

24:40 - Sabine shares his weird dream that involves Jim Boylen

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

In Bulls' loss to Toronto Raptors, Denzel Valentine and Daniel Gafford rejuvenated the United Center

In Bulls' loss to Toronto Raptors, Denzel Valentine and Daniel Gafford rejuvenated the United Center

Monday night, 14,775 fans attended the Bulls' latest in a line of hard-fought defeats: a 93-92 loss to the Toronto Raptors. That's the smallest reported crowd at the United Center for a Bulls game since Dec. 16, 2004.

For stretches, though, it felt like a full house. 

"The UC was great tonight, the fans were awesome," Denzel Valentine said.

The starters carried the team, to start: Of the Bulls' 50 first-half points, 46 were scored by Tomas Satoransky, Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter. But it wasn't the usual suspects that pushed the Chicago faithful's decibel count to levels unheard of in the earlygoing of this season.

Thank Valentine and Daniel Gafford, in large part, for that. With the Bulls trailing 61-58 at the 4:45 mark of the third, Jim Boylen turned to a bench-dominated unit of Coby White, Valentine, Thad Young, Gafford and LaVine to spark his group. It was a potential tipping point in the game: The Raptors were in the midst of an 11-3 run and the Bulls' offense was fizzling. White, Valentine, Young and Gafford had four points between them upon entry.

With that move, the fates tilted towards the home side. For a time.

"It was great minutes from them," Satoransky said of Valentine and Gafford after the game. "I think [Denzel] is feeling more himself right now. And DG will always bring that energy. He's one of the most athletic guys I've ever seen, his energy... will always refresh our game."

It certainly did in this one. Gafford blocked three shots and notched 10 points over the game's final quarter-and-a-half. Valentine scored all 13 of his points for the night after that juncture in the third, shooting 5-for-9 from the floor and 3-for-7 from 3-point range. The Bulls finished the night 12-for-46 from 3-point land.

"Just energy," Valentine said, of what that bench unit brought. "We started playing defense. It started on the defensive end, started in transition, getting rebounds. Played with a little bit more life. Playing with each other too. We were moving the ball together."

"We go in, we produce with the minutes that we get," Gafford said. And on what the fans gave back: "There was definitely energy. I was blocking shots, Denzel was knocking down shots, we were getting stops on defense. We were doing everything we needed to do to win the game, and the crowd helped us do that."

Of course, they didn't do it alone. In spite of not scoring, White played a solid defensive game and finished the night with eight rebounds and five assists. Young and Kris Dunn each hit crucial 3-pointers in the third. But watching Valentine and Gafford ignite the home crowd made it even more surreal that neither of them cracked the regular rotation until mid-to-late November.

"We got a bond," Gafford said. "He finds me when I'm open, and I find him when he's open... We just go out and play basketball."

That strategy helped the Bulls build an 85-77 lead with eight minutes left in the game, but the team's good fortunes faded fast from there. After an alley-oop from Valentine to Gafford gave them their 84th and 85th points of the night, the Bulls didn't score for the next five-and-a-half minutes of game action. The Raptors surged down the stretch. The Bulls scrapped, but ultimately faltered when it mattered most.

Both Gafford and Valentine found themselves in the Bulls' closing lineup — Valentine by way of the hot-hand, Gafford in Carter's stead after he fouled out with just under four minutes remaining. A Valentine transition layup, Markkanen 3-pointer and Gafford layup represented the Bulls' only points of the final eight minutes.

"We gotta learn how to put it away. If we can't at the end of the third quarter, we gotta put it away at the beginning of the fourth," Gafford said. "We just gotta learn how to put it away, seal the deal." 

But, as a team, they didn't. And thus, the bottom line doesn't change. The Bulls won a(nother) moral victory or two tonight, but when the final points were tallied, they were on the short end. That's the only stat that matters, especially to those 14,775 that stood behind their team, in person, tonight.

"It’s disappointing when we don’t win games. It’s disappointing when we don’t win home games," Boylen, who has presided over only 10 home victories in his tenure, said. "Nobody is running from that."

"No excuses, nobody cares, we just gotta come out and play hard and learn from our mistakes," Valentine said. "It's tough, because we lose the last three and we were up in the fourth [quarter], I think, in all of those games. So it's tough. But hopefully at some point we'll figure it out."

Gafford and Valentine provided a jolt, but because of the result, they're only would-be heroes — their combined performance amounts to nothing more than an all-too-familiar silver lining. In some ways, that stings even more.

"That's why this game is so frustrating," Satoransky said. "Because I know we were there. Fans were engaged and I think we played very well, and we missed a lot of shots. You know, that always hurts."

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